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U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia

"If the real problem is Somalia, then what have we done to change the situation inside Somalia? Are we funding schools, health care or helping establish an effective government?" Dagne said. "We have a generation of Somali kids growing up without education and only knowing violence and poverty. Unless there is a change, these could become the next warlords out of necessity for survival. That's perhaps the greatest threat we have yet to address."

Somalis far from the factional fighting in Mogadishu said they were waiting for anyone to help ease their destitute lives during the worst drought in a decade.

In Waajid, a dusty town about 200 miles northwest of the capital, thousands of villagers have left their farms for squalid camps, searching for water and living in open, rocky fields under low-lying, fragile shelters of sticks and rags that look like bird's nests.

Many people here say they feel that the United States has ignored Somalia since the failed 1993 military intervention. Today many Somalis said they regret that chapter in their history and thank the United States, the largest donor of food and funding for water trucks during this season's drought.

However, they said that news that the U.S. government was talking with warlords has awakened feelings of resentment.

"George W. Bush, we welcome the Americans. But not to back warlords. We need the U.S.A. to help the young government," said Isak Nur Isak, the district commissioner in Waajid. "We won't drag any Americans through the street like in 1993. We want to be clear: We don't want only food aid, but we do want political support for the new government, which is all we have right now to put our hopes in. We can't eat if everyone is dead."

Wax reported from Waajid, Somalia, and Nairobi. DeYoung reported from Washington.

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